Race Weekend Central

Racing to the Point: It’s Go Time for Jimmie Johnson

Don’t let that Kansas Speedway post-accident smile fool you; Jimmie Johnson’s back is against the wall.

Here’s why: There are two races left before the next Chase cutoff – except Talladega isn’t really a race at all, but an embarrassing crapshoot where Steve Grissom had just as good of a chance at winning as Johnson. So that leaves one real race where a driver can control his own destiny and advance to the next round with a win.

After Johnson’s 40th-place finish at Kansas, he’s last in the Chase standings for the first time in his career, 44 points behind Joey Logano. Unless Kansas-style havoc ensues at Charlotte, a good points day next weekend won’t be good enough for the No. 48 team to get in the top eight, either.

Charlotte, then, is a must-win for Johnson. There’s no more room for lackluster performances in a season that’s been full of them. Expectations have certainly been high for the team that’s won six of the last eight championships. During several points in that 2006-13 stretch – most points, really – the No. 48 team was the class of the garage, at top of the charts every week.

That hasn’t the case in 2014, where it’s been a step behind the championship contenders in the second half of the season.

Maybe Johnson was just laying back, maybe crew chief and mad scientist Chad Knaus was just experimenting with the car, maybe they were playing mind games with the competition – or maybe they just weren’t that good. Whatever the case may be, there can’t be anymore of it. If the No. 48 doesn’t return to its old form this weekend, it could be the end of the road.

(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)
It’s now or never for Jimmie Johnson. (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

For Johnson and Knaus, this is uncharted territory. In all of Johnson’s championship runs, he’s never faced a race where he’s really had to win. He fell behind in the 2006 championship after wrecking in the final laps at Talladega, but he used consistency (four second-place finishes mainly) to claim his first title. Anytime Johnson’s faced a hurdle in a championship season, he’s been able to rely on consistency to claw his way back.

A big part of that consistency stemmed from having the fastest car each and every week. It doesn’t appear Johnson has that anymore, and it also looks like consistent finishes aren’t going to the right the ship. He has to win, and he has to do it now.

Charlotte isn’t a bad place for the No. 48 team to face a must-win scenario. Johnson’s won there seven times and he dominated the spring race, leading 164 laps on the way to victory. But may I remind you, we saw something very similar at Dover two races ago. Johnson, a nine-time winner at Dover, appeared untouchable in his spring race win, but never even got to the lead in the Chase race and came home third. In fairness to Johnson, he knew he didn’t have to win at Dover to advance to the next round. Consistency was enough to get by in the Chase before this.

Johnson has another huge variable working against him: there are going to be drivers just as desperate as him to win on Saturday. Leading the list is Brad Keselowski, who finished 36th at Kansas, and has shown a lot more speed than Johnson this season – plus he’s good in the clutch. There’s also Kevin Harvick, who gets around Charlotte really well and is tired of coming up short, and Kyle Larson, who is creeping closer and closer to his first win.

It took until the 31st race of the season, but we’re finally going to find out what the 2014 version of the No. 48 team is made of. It’s win or potentially get knocked out of the title race early.

About the author

Brett starts his fourth year with the Frontstretch in 2014, writing the popular Racing To The Point commentary on Tuesdays. An award-winning Connecticut Sportswriter and Editor, Brett resides in the Constitution State while working towards his dream of getting involved in racing full-time.

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Good article. It does boil down to no matter what the plan was or not was in the past, it’s go time or go home soon.

Tim S.

In a rewrite of the “Someday My Win Will Come” script from the first third of the season, Johnson goes to Charlotte, tops at least one practice, starts on the pole with a new track record, leads 325 of 334 laps, and “miraculously” advances. Then it’s Wayback Week as we relish in the return of the “Jimmie’s House” headlines. Barf.

Don in CT

I heard Brain France denied the rumor sweeping the racing/sports world that WWF has purchased a controlling interest in Nascar. Could have fooled me. Why not an all comers mud wrestling match to decide the championship? Makes as much sense as this abortion.


This is what you get when merit is a non factor in your Championship format. The Chase is such a mess, perhaps the falling flat attempts to create some excitement most of all. It is getting to the point of being more humorous than annoying. Where can I get my abomiNATION tee shirt?


It might not be a must win, but it’s at least a must top-5. You can’t go into Talledega needing to win to advance. It’s just too unpredictable.


I pray Joey Logano wins again!


I believe it was last year but don’t remember when or at what track Biffle ,not being too happy, getting into Johnson’s face during a post race TV interview. Wonder if Sunday was payback time.

Michael in SoCal

Biffle said he wasn’t sure what happened on Sunday. He thought Jimmie had to slow down or something. Didn’t mention any bad blood. Not that he would though.

Carl D.

Surely there’s something in Chad’s big ‘ol bag of tricks that can save the day…


Johnson will win at Charlotte. After all, it is his “house.” Jr. will win at Talladega and all will be right in Brian’s world again.

However, if by some miracle Johnson fails to win and might be eliminated, Brian better find the horseshoe that seems to have been flushed down the toilet and put it back in place for the Talladega race. Even if Johnson qualifies for the next round, Biffle is on my Christmas card list.

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